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Extension > Live Healthy, Live Well > Passport to Flavor: Native American Traditions

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Passport to Flavor: Native American Traditions

This month, we continue our “Passport to Flavor” series that explores different cultures and their food traditions. We hope you find this information useful in your work with children and families from various cultures, as well as a source of ideas on how to teach children about other cultures.

Our third guest blogger is Deanna Beaulieu, a SNAP-Ed educator with University of Minnesota Extension who will be sharing her perspective on the Native American culture and foods.

Aaniin (Hello). My name is Deanna Beaulieu. I was born and raised in Minneapolis and am an enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. While I was growing up, I enjoyed spending summers with my grandmother by Leech Lake. My grandmother would tell me, “It doesn’t matter where you are from. It’s what’s in your heart that matters.” Although I live in Minneapolis, I belong to the land up north — that is where my heart lives.

I have been working as a SNAP-Ed educator for two years. Prior to working for Extension, I worked as a community health worker at the Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis where I talked to women and men in my community about cancer risks and screenings.



My favorite traditional Native American food is wild rice. There are many different ways to enjoy wild rice. One way I enjoy wild rice is cooking it with diced celery, then adding a little butter, salt, and crumbled bacon for flavor. That is one of the ways my grandma made it — if we had bacon. Otherwise, we just cooked it in water and ate it.


Interesting Facts from the Native American Culture


  • There are 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota. The Ojibwe Nations are in the northern parts of the state: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation, Bois Forte Band, Mille Lacs Band, Fond Du Lac Ojibwe, and Grand Portage Band. The Dakota tribes are located in the southern parts: Upper and Lower Sioux Communities, Prairie Island Sioux Community, and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
  • Most Native Americans believe, “The land does not belong to us; we belong to the land.”
  • Native Americans were the original practitioners and traditional teachers of agriculture in North America. Many of these skills were lost when Native Americans were placed/moved to reservations and most of our forests were cut down and our rivers and lakes were dammed. Today, if you visit a community on a reservation, you will see very few gardens. The Three Sisters Garden method of planting corn, beans, and squash in close proximity to each other originates from Native Americans. Planting these three crops together is called companion planting because each plant helps the other grow. Eaten together, corn, beans, and squash provide all the amino acids an individual needs. Three Sisters Soup is one way to enjoy foods from Three Sisters Garden. Read more about the Three Sisters Garden.

Three Sisters
Three Sisters.
Photo credit: Sarah Braun / Flickr

  • Native Americans have experienced historical trauma that still impacts them today. The trauma experienced by our ancestors has been passed through generations. Our original way of life has been interrupted by the deforestation, damming of lakes and rivers, forced removal from original homelands, and assimilation of our children through boarding schools. In many ways, we are working together as communities to revitalize our culture and reclaim the lifeways of our ancestors in our modern society.
  • Our children and elders are sacred. We believe that it is they who are closest connection to the spirit world. This physical realm is merely one plane of existence. Therefore, children and elders are our knowledge and wisdom keepers. We have much to learn from our children — they are our ancestors returning to us.


Helpful Ideas and Resources


  • Native American children have a strong sense of belonging. Create an atmosphere of belonging in the classroom by letting children know you care about them. Listen to them.
  • Native American children want to have a purpose. Give them roles and responsibilities in the classroom.
  • Native Americans believe children are closer to the creator, the Great Spirit, because they have only been here a short time. Because they are closer to the creator, children can teach us adults how to be better human beings.

Cooking and Playing Games with Children


It’s never too early to introduce children to new cultures. Sampling foods and playing games are fun ways to teach children about other cultures.

Cooking Wild Rice


Wild rice has been a staple food for Native Americans for centuries. Wild rice is native to North America. Wild rice grows in lakes and Native Americans harvest it by hand using canoes.

Canoe and Minnesota wild rice
Canoe and Minnesota wild rice
Photo credit: Eli Sagor

It is important to choose hand-parched wild rice. Show children this short video of the wild rice harvest from White Earth Minnesota: Harvesting Wild Rice. At the end of the video, children will be able to see all the rice that has been knocked into the canoe. After the video, show them raw wild rice and have them sample cooked wild rice.

Playing the Moccasin Game


This is a fun game where players hide a small pebble in one of four moccasins. The other player tries to guess which moccasin it is in. You can read the full instructions to the game here: Obijwa - Moccasin Game. You can watch a video of people playing the moccasin game here: Moccasin Game - YouTube.

Young children are eager to learn. Take time this month to introduce children to the Native American culture.

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